David Farland's assistant, and occasionally does crazy-awesome things like fly to New York just to meet J.K. Rowling. And she had some brilliant insights on my post about try/fail cycles, which I had to share with you all. So here for your reading pleasure is Kami McArthur!
"I had this sudden revelation that a character can succeed and fail at the exact same time, because characters have long and short term goals.
In Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter's main, overarching goal is to find out what Malfoy is up to, which he fails at throughout the book. In Knockturn Alley, Hermione goes to Borgin and Burkes to try to find out what Malfoy wanted fixed and she fails, so it's a fail for the short term goal and the long term one. But on the Hogwarts Express, Harry eavesdrops on Malfoy (short term goal) and succeeds. But he fails to actually find out what he's up to. Maybe that would be considered a "Yes, but"--but in the big picture it's a fail for Harry and a bad fail as he ends up getting his face smashed in.
So sometimes the same event can be a "yes, but" and a "fail" depending on the context.
And there are examples where a failure ends up actually being a success in the long run. Like how Harry failed to break the habit of using Expelliarmus in Deathly Hallows, but the fact that he failed brought him success in destroying Voldemort--since that's the spell he beat him with.
You could play with it and have a character try to succeed at something, and when they succeed they actually realized they failed--that their success, in reality, ruined everything, not fixed it. For example, Snape worked for Voldemort, and therefore against Dumbledore. He overheard part of the prophecy that Professor Trelawney made to Dumbledore, and seeking to help Voldemort, passes along the information, which he would have considered a success. However, at the exact same time, it’s his worst failure, though he won’t realize it until later, because the prophecy results in the death of Lily. When he learns the prophecy might mean Lily’s son, the context changes and his action becomes a fail, especially since he prizes Lily’s life more than Voldemort or the Dark Arts.
You could also have a success and failure at the same time WITH the character’s knowledge of it. I think this one is more common than the last. Like at the end of the movie Dragon Heart you have a success and failure because Draco’s death results in the death of the evil prince (success), but it’s a fail because it also means the death of the dragons. The characters had two goals that conflicted—kill the prince, and save the last dragon.
I think these are different from the “Yes, but…” because the “Yes, but…” means the character succeeded, but now there’s more to it. Like Frodo’s original goal in Lord of the Rings was to take the ring to Rivendell, and eventually he succeeds BUT then he has to take it to the Crack of Doom, which is way worse and more dangerous than the journey to Rivendell, and to top it all off he doesn’t even know how to get there!
I think you could also try to create a double or triple fail (three goals fail by the same action) and then it would be extra devastating and a big blow. Or you could double or triple success by accomplishing multiple goals at once—though, I’m thinking this is usually how many stories end. But you could put something similar somewhere else in your story to twist it up if you wanted."
So, my friends, have you ever tried to take your story deeper by turning a win into a fail? Or vice versa? And hey, if you're on Twitter, do you want to follow Kami? She's looking for more writing buddies. (And as you can see, she's sort of brilliant.)